CHARACTERISTICS OF BRANDS
‘Brands are a part of the fabric of life
‘Just about the only thing brands have in common is a kind of fame.’
These two quotations, from two famous British advertising men of different generations, seem contradictory. McDonald’s is part of life, but is it famous in the way Clint Eastwood is? Porsche is famous, but is it part of our lives?
Judie Lannon, another advertising person, relates anthropological findings on cult and ritual to some brands: “The brand is a cult object… it has charisma.’ One can see the connection for brands she quotes such as Zippo lighters, Swatch watches or Mont Blanc pens. Perhaps it works also for more mundane brands such as Domestos, and may throw light on any brand if we look deeply enough.
An allied view is of ‘the brand as hero’. Again, we can see this more easily for some brands than others. Heroic imagery
is part of some brand advertising; this is obvious in the case of Marlboro cigarettes, where cigarette smoking can have overtones of rugged independence and individualism. Today, the hero is often female, as in advertising for Volkswagen and Nissan cars.
This leads us to ask, which is the hero – the brand or the user? In much British advertising, gentle humour disguises but does not conceal the hero. If heavy beer drinkers are hero-worshipping fantasists, as one study suggested, then much advertising is well targeted.
What these views all suggest is that a brand must be something different from a product. Arguably, all brands start as undifferentiated products; their success or failure in the market place depends on their functional quality. When soap came in large blocks from which your grocer cut off a slice when you asked for it, you judged it as soap. After Sunlight started to wrap uniform blocks in recognizable packaging you could begin to differentiate the Sunlight brand from ordinary soap as a product. When Virgin first started, it sold music as a product. Gradually, the Virgin brand was built up and now covers an astonishing array of product fields including airlines, cola, railways and financial services. Virgin is now quite definitely a brand, something different from any of its individual products. (We shall return later to the issue of brand extension and the Virgin phenomenon.)
A brand, then, has an existence that is more than an actual product or service: it has a life of its own that feeds on the original product, but can also carry its values and identity into new product areas.
As Stephen King put it, ‘A product is something that is made in a factory; a brand is something that is bought by a consumer’ (1990). Charles Revlon, the founder of Revlon, made a similar point when he said that in the factory, he made cosmetics; in the store, his customers bought hope. Thomas Cook’ means something to us; it carries with it associations and memories that are generically to do with travel (and perhaps with tradition and reliability), but which are not necessarily tied exclusively to shops or traveller’s cheques. If electronic technology completely replaces existing cameras and film, Kodak could still be a leading brand, though one that represents excellence in image capture, storage and reproduction. Marks & Spencer can sell us financial services that have very little to do with its core business, because we have enormous trust in it as a brand. The brand, then, is a holistic combination of product and added values. As Jeremy Bullmore has pointed out: